In some ways columnists, and newspaper people, either thrive on controversy or on humor, or both. In a way you have to have a perverted sense of the world to work in this business.
How is that you say? Well just look at what we have to do.
First of all we have to report stories about bad things that happen to people. Sure I get to do the sunny and happy stories too, but most of the stories I write have to do with somebody doing something to someone who either doesn't want that particular thing done to them or done the way the doers want to do it.
Then there is government reporting. As a journalist you get to sit through a lot of long meetings with other people, who like you, wish they could be somewhere else at the time. Then you get to report the results of those meetings. Often, by recollection of one or more of the attendees at the meeting, you don't report it right, even though you wrote down exactly what happened. And sometimes people yell at you when you write what they said about a subject, even though they actually did say it. In addition, once in a while in meetings, someone in officialdom will ask you not to print something they said or a subject they discussed. In that case, that is when I usually do print it. Of course that ticks someone off too.
I, and everyone else who writes for a newspaper expects to be criticized at one time or another. It comes with the territory, and if you are not the type that can handle it, you shouldn't be in this business. So I accept that.
Here at the Sun Advocate we have a rule that says all staff written opinion pieces and original stories must have a name on them. That way if there is a question or a criticism we must answer, the readers know who to turn to.
To be honest, it sometimes takes some real courage by the writer of a piece to sign their name, especially when they know the subject is controversial. Sometimes I write things and I just know that I am going to raise the ire of someone or some group. And when we make a mistake on something, thousands of people have the chance to see it and sqawk about it if they wish.
However, since I have to sign my name to a piece I have written or a photo I shot, I would expect that those who go through our newspaper would provide us with the same courtesy if they have a complaint. That is so I know whom I am either answering by mail or on the phone when they contact us. It is not fair to us, or our readers, to be talking to someone on the phone or answering a letter concerning a criticism from someone who does not have the courage to put their name on their gripe.
In the legal system in this country, a defendant has the right to confront and meet his accusers. I think it should be the same with criticism.
I used to work in human resources for a company, and we often found that when an employee had trouble in the work place, some of the complaints were lodged by people who "didn't want to get involved" but thought we should know about the persons action. The director of the department I worked in often refused to take down any complaint unless it was accompanied by a complaintents name, because he said no employee of the organization should have to "box with shadows."
Over the past few weeks, those "shadows" have appeared a number of times concerning what we reported in the paper. Those criticisms or questions arrived via the telephone and in letters, unsigned and unnamed. It had to do with three different story lines we undertook during that time.
A couple of the letters questioned our integrity for reporting something that they said didn't take place, yet I was on the spot and observed it first hand. It did happen.
Another call criticized us for printing a photo of a philanthropic action, saying that other people in the community were doing the same thing and that we were one sided in reporting the event. However, as I tried to explain to the person on the other end of the phone, we had no idea anyone else had done anything similar. No one had told us. She didn't believe me. But then she also wouldn't tell me who she was either.
The point is, that if you want to contact us about something, and are serious about it, be big enough to leave your name and let us know who you are. I can't promise you will always get the answer you want, but we will try to be reasonable and explain the situation to you. We do not print anonymous letters in the "Letters to the editor", nor will we print letters that cast personal dispersions against people who either appear in the paper, write something for the paper or are advertising in our paper.
Today in the "Letters to the editor" is a great letter pointing out a shortcoming in an article I wrote last week. Dr. Cori Callahan's letter is perfectly acceptable, and in fact she is totally right. I should have listed optometrists as well as opthalmologists. She was also right about where hemorrhages occur in the eye. She knows a lot more about that than I do, and I did get some faulty information. I thank her, and other people for these kinds of letters because it not only provides the right kind of feedback for us to do a better job and consider subjects more closely, but also adds to our readers knowledge.
We welcome your concerns and criticisms at this paper, as long as we have a chance to explain our side of things and we know who we are talking to.
As for those "shadows" out there, if correspondence or a phone call comes to us anonymously with a concern or a criticism about something we have done, you will only be boxing with yourself, because anonymous just doesn't do it for us.